tagSci-Fi & FantasyIdle Hands Pt. 01

Idle Hands Pt. 01

byDragonCobolt©

Lieutenant Jonathan Belview leaned back in his seat and looked out at the vast, flat pancake that was the Arizona desert and thanked every god that he could think of that he was inside. Inside with the air conditioning. Inside with a screen.

"I'm just saying," Balder said, quietly. "The new American flag isn't quite worth the new state."

"What?" Jon asked, cocking his head to the side as he looked at the screen. The digital representation of Balder -- the internet spanning sentient news sorting program that had rapidly transcended from Google pet project to global intelligence -- shook his head ruefully. Being an A.I, Balder hadn't bothered with anything as egotistical as a handsome face. Rather, he looked like an average, every-day American. Brownish, wide nosed, with a few jumbled facial features here and there.

The fact that he was named after a Norse god had given some racist idiots apoplexies, back in the 21st century. Jon had a pet theory that the outrage had actually led Balder to make his facial design even more racially mixed.

"Well, look at it," Balder said, gesturing to the side. His head skimmed left and the screen filled with the image of the agreed upon design for the American flag. The 21st century had brought many changes to the world. The first and most important hadn't, shockingly, been the advent of artificial intelligence. Rather, it had been the creation of the DeVilbiss Drive by the eponymous Paul DeVilbiss. A wafered collection of room temperature superconductors, the DeVilbiss Drive -- also known as a DV drive -- could warp space/time via the creation of negative energy.

With it came the stars.

And with it had come American colonies.

And with those had come new states.

And with new states had come a new flag.

Additional stars had been debated, but the simple fact was that there were distinct differences between the old states and the new. Hamilton, Lincoln, Franklin and now Hancock were all on other planets, in other solar systems. And so the design had shifted, with a white circle containing the fifty one stars of the earthbound states and a series of other stars surrounding the circle representing the extrasolar colony.

But now, the push had come for a new design, that emphasized the unity of the Union. So, now, the stars were all jumbled into one big square.

Jon had to admit.

It did look a bit jumbled.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Jon detected movement. He looked up and out the window of the security post. His brow furrowed as Balder's voice faded into the background. He stood. "Red alert!" he said -- Balder's voice cutting off mid sentence as the entire base smashed down jammers. The gate beside his security post hummed as the buried shield generators activated. Micro-sized DV emitters powered up and created a bubble of space that would redirect the kinetic energy of anything that came close.

But that didn't stop the truck barreling towards the facility.

Jon had a few seconds to try and figure out what the truck was. It was oddly angular, covered with rickety looking protrusions -- all matte black, carbon fiber finish shining along the sides. He realized, moments before the truck hit the shields, that it had been covered with radar reflective and absorbent materials. Then he hit the deck and the shields cracked as the truck slammed home.

The shields worked.

The truck flipped up into the air.

And then the back exploded.

Batteries in the 22nd century weren't batteries. Rather, they were micro-DV emitters used to compress a mechanical spring into a tiny space. Rather than lithium or iron or any other heavy metals, a K1 was just a kilometer of spring. And when the emitter was disabled with the safeties off, the spring uncoiled into realspace. It chewed through the truck and had enough strength and structural integrity to smash into the shields. The micro-DV emitters underground ran out of power and overloaded.

The mangled, molten wreck of the truck smashed to the ground.

And then, shooting above it, came a skimmer. A civilian vehicle, towed right behind the truck, with several armored and shielded men and women on it. Jon, his ears ringing, clapped his hands over his head as bullets thudded into the desert, the walls, the console. Then the skimmer was past. He scrambled to his feet, looking through the window of the security station. The window had cracked, but the safety glass hadn't fully shattered.

Jon tapped his communicator bead. He got nothing but static.

The skimmer banked and a series of rockets thudded into the side of the base. Smaller, bright white blasts -- M1 charges, rather than a K1 -- exploded. The wall came down. Three of the men hopped off the skimmer and rushed inside. The other two remained on the pintle mounted weapons. Jon ducked down as a string of bullets hammered into the wall above his head. More gunshots filled the air. Confused shouts. More static over the com bead.

When Jon stood again, he saw the three men returning. One of them was limping, but he moved fast enough to get onto the skimmer. The other two were dragging heavy looking black boxes. Within a moment, they were on the skimmer, and the skimmer was shooting back over the mangled truck.

Jon stood in the midst of chaos, panting quietly.

"What the fuck-"

###

"-is going on?" President Auali snarled as she walked through the doors into the oval office and to her desk. She sat down, her palms laying flat as she watched General Makfune and Admiral Sherman taking their seats.

"The preliminary forensic responses are clear, Madame President," Admiral Sherman said, crossing one leg over his other. "One of the attackers was ex-Gunnery Sergeant Thomas DuBois."

President Auali rubbed her temple with one finger. "So, he's one of our own."

"Worse. DuBois is ex-special forces. Ten years in the marines, five years in SpecOps with Section Six. He did missions on Charon, in Trappist, two years in a Huntress enclave. If you can name an alien or an enemy national, he's killed one. Yahaag, Russians, Belgians for god's sake. Hell, he's killed Shockpods with his bare hands!" Makfune said, shaking his head. "The only thing we have going for us is he's not a Devil Trooper."

"And we're sure that he took the Q-Keys?" President Auali asked.

The two military leaders nodded.

Auali leaned back in her seat. The chair was older than she was -- a holdover from at least two administrations ago. She frowned as she ran the pieces over in her mind. A century before, one of her predecessors had to face a world with ancient enmities, cyber-warfare, bio-terrorism, standard terrorism, and more than twenty five thousand nuclear weapons. On his watch, ancient hegemonic powers had trembled in the face of a changing climate and radical transformations in technology and demographics.

She envied Obama.

She would have gladly murdered a kitten for the problems Obama had.

Currently, the United States was one of five interplanetary superpowers. Imperial Russia, the People's Republic of China, the Pan-Brazilian Federation and the European Union. Each of them had multiple extrasolar colonies. Each one had roughly the same total war deterrent system as the United States. Land based missile silos, submarine based missiles systems, plane dropped bombs and orbital weapon systems. In a vain bid to try and dial back the terror of mutually assured destruction, each nation-state had adopted fluxbombs that were natural extrapolations of smaller batteries.

DV engines at that scale ran hot and wore out far faster than smaller engines. Thus, the T1 missiles that they used needed to be replaced roughly as often as the tritium in the warheads of old nuclear bombs.

But hey. At least in the case of a total war, the destruction would only kill billions while not producing radioactivity. That made things much safer. Much more sane.

Safety concerns kept T1 warheads from being primed until they were needed, as a single catastrophic drive failure would mean ending the lives of thousands, if not millions of people in an instant.

Security concerns kept the warheads from being primed by anything but a physical quantum key. The risk of a single rogue AI, or malignant alien intelligence, or anything really setting the weapons off by remote was too intense.

And the Q-keys for a quarter of the entire orbital defense platform system had just been stolen.

"Madam President." An aide opened the door, sticking his head in. "We just received a communique. From DuBois."

Auali nodded. "Put it on the screen."

The screen at the far end of the oval office crackled on. Standing there, framed by darkness and looking entirely too smug for his own good, was Thomas DuBois. He was a lean, tough looking man, with epicanthic folds, olive brown skin. His left cheek had a trio of scars that had to have come from a clawed creature, reaching up to right below his left eye. He grinned as he nodded to the camera.

"Madam President," he said. "I'm sorry to contact you in this way. But I'm afraid I've got little choice in the matter." He grinned. "So, lets not mince words. We have a quarter of the US' detquad on lockdown. You have a week to transfer a hundred and sixty five billion euros to the following bank account. Once we've transferred the money from those accounts into our accounts, we'll return the Q-Keys. If you fail to transfer the funds, we'll let everyone else in on the fact that if they attack...you can only retaliate with boomers."

He nodded. "I'm sure you'll do the right thing, Madame President."

The screen blipped off.

Auali tapped her fingers together. "Just to be sure, we cannot simply replace the warheads with new ones?"

"We could," Makfune said. "But that'd require launching unscheduled orbital ships to each of our defensive platforms a mere day after we loaded them. If we break schedule like that, the Russians or the Chinese..." He made a face. "They're still at war, and they might see that as a preparation for us to attack them. Informing them of the reason could be interpreted as a ruse, or they might take it at face value and consider an attack."

Auali nodded. "So, for the next month, we've got a chink in our armor. And if we don't pay in a week, everyone knows it." She tapped her fingers on the desk.

The fact that there was only one decision didn't make it any easier to shoulder the pressure.

"Find that ship," Auali snarled. "Now."

"Ma'am, we tracked it to near orbit. It vanished. Not into FTL, though -- we can't detect it anywhere," Admiral Sherman said. "It's like it just disappeared."

Auali frowned, tapping her fingers on the desk.

"Lets start collecting the money," she said, quietly. "But get the CIA. Get the NSA. Get the DHS. Get SS8, S92, get everyone you can and find me DuBois!"

###

Wind ruffled Captain DeShane Gallagher's hair as she let herself hang from the ropes that led to the Enterprise's sails. She let her eyes close and simply felt. She felt the rocking of the waves. She felt the brush of the wind. She felt the heat of the metal under her thin shoes. She felt the sun baking along her tanned skin. She felt her hair shift and ruffle behind her. She heard the creak of the sails.

She heard the scrape -- of hull on half-submerged rubble.

Dey's lips skinned back across her teeth and she opened her eyes. She yanked to the side on the sail and the Enterprise skimmed to the port and banked smoothly around one of the buildings that emerged from the ocean. There, she saw the other ship -- marked black and red. They had two crew, and those crew-members hastily brought their guns up, abandoning all attempts to try and clear themselves from where they had gotten grounded.

A hail of paintballs thudded into the side of the Enterprise. None got close to Dey as she kicked her rifle into her hand. One handed, she aimed -- and fired. One of the men was struck right in the center of mass, green paint expanding across his shirt. He threw up his arms with a loud groan. The other man shouted something at her in Spanish.

It's not complimentary, I can tell you that.

Dey shot the other man in the chest.

[You don't say?] Dey thought back, grinning wider as she kicked an automatic device into gear. The sail swung to the side and the Enterprise caught the wind once more.

"Another ship down!" A booming voice echoed out over the ocean, ringing off buildings. "That's another point for Team Gallagher -- we're going four oh!"

[I'd say this was unfair, but I'm awesome,] Dey said. [And I did warn them.]

The wind picked up. And with the wind came two more ships, coming around the corner of another wrecked building. These ships were dual hulled canoes done in the Polynesian style. Their crews were all bearing weapons and they shouted, whooped, and cried out in excitement. Dey grinned broadly. She stepped backwards, then lifted up one hand, waving at the crews.

They came within range.

Dey fired off her grapnel. It was implanted into her arm and one of the many advantages of the modern age. A DeVilbiss generator could expand space and it could compact space. It could, for instance, put almost five hundred meters of thin cabling into someone's arm without taking up more room than a small bead. The grapnel bit into the top of a skyscraper and then the other DV generators built into Dey's body kicked on -- guided by the voice in her head.

Unlike some people, though, the voice in her head was real.

And could calculate the warp the fields required to completely negate her mass.

Her feet thudded into the side of the skyscraper. She undid the grapnel. She dropped. Landed behind the crew on the ships.

"Hello!" she said, cheerily.

When they walked into McAlystair's Bar and Grill, Dey was completely dry and clean. The fifteen other men and women who had signed up onto red team were covered with bright green paint. They walked over to the bar and Dey slapped two of them on the back, looking over their shoulders at the bartender.

"This round is on me," Dey said.

The other team looked mollified when McAlystair started to place drinks before them. The tall, genderfluid man who ran the Bar and Grill for the past decade grinned wryly at Dey as she took her stool at the end of the row. He was handsome, in a kind of feminine sort of way, and had grown his hair long, straight and dyed in an iridescent cascade of colors. He tapped the bar, bringing up a glowing series of rectangles underneath each drink, which combined, then flicked down to float before Dey's field of vision. She pursed her lips.

"Are you making the drinks more expensive every day I show up?" Dey asked.

"Yup," McAlystair said, his voice casual.

Dey flicked her finger through the glowing rectangle, sending it back down into the counter-top. "You know, I fought for your freedom to overcharge me."

"You're a tool of the hegemonic imperialists that have run this country since it was founded," McAlystairs said, dryly.

"Hey! I'm a hand of the hegemonic imperialists at the very least," Dey said, sticking her tongue out at the man's back. As he stomped off, one of the captains of the other team took a seat beside her.

Penelope shoved her finger at Dey's nose. Dey resisted the urge to bite it. Penny would just take it as an invitation. Not that Dey minded inviting her. Penny had taken the word that it was the future and decided to go all in. She wore rings held in place with micro-scale magnetic impelling fields, hovering around her wrists and ankles. She dyed her hair neon blue and did her eyebrows with LED studs and had bio-luminescent, shapeshifting tattoos along her narrow cheek bones. And, right now, she was waggling a finger whose extremely long fingernail fluoresced in colors that Dey was fairly sure only a Yahaag could admire without needing thermal goggles.

"You owe me a new shirt," she said. "Not just a round of cocktails."

"They serve cocktails here? Also, who wears their best shirt in a paintball naval battle?" Dey asked.

"Someone who expects to win," Penny said, darkly.

"Well, uh, hate to break it to you, Penny," Dey said, tapping the counter top for emphasis. This brought up the interface and a helpful anthropomorphized drink called Winky the Whisky. Winky's speech balloon blipped into the air: If you want a darker flavored lager, I'd suggest-

Dey scowled and waved her hand, banishing Winky back to the nightmarish hellscape from whence he came. "I'm badass," she finished.

"I thought you said you wouldn't use your shields, though," Penny said.

"I didn't," Dey said. Then, grinning. "I just used my grapnel, inertial dampeners and targeting AI. See? It was basically a level playing field."

The door to the bar swung open. Playing to stereotype, everyone turned to look. Most people turned back to their drinks and conversation -- but Dey kept her eyes on the alien in the doorway. Though alien wasn't the right term for someone born in Miami. But Skylar wasn't a human being. The discovery of faster than light travel had rapidly brought humanity in contact with many races. Some, like the Xeth or the Perseus Mumblers, remained enigmas, referenced by other races as shadowy monsters that should be avoided. Others, like Shockpods or Yahaag, were chronic enemies that butted heads against humans left and right.

And some, like the Squids, were just good neighbors.

Skylar moved on his tentacles. That meant he was crazy buff for a Squid, as most of them preferred to slither along the floor when on dry land. But Skylar managed to step from tentacle to tentacle, his hexagonal central mass held upright, his eight eyes looking forward, his beak clicking happily as he approached.

"Hey Skylar. Find anything good this time?" Alystair asked, smiling.

Dey tried to relax and get her hands to unclench. Down, Dey, it's okay, Loki murmured.

[I know that. You know that. Tell my hind-brain that,] Dey muttered.

Her last mission. The reason why she was on leave and not kicking ass for Uncle Sam. It had...involved bad things that had left bad memories of tentacles in her head. The hell of it was that it hadn't even been a Squid. Squids were made, as far as she knew, out of the same mixture of carbon and bits of water and some calcium that humans were made out of. Not exotic dark matter. It didn't quite help.

"Oh, just the biggest find of my life," Skylar said, drawing himself onto a stool between Penny and Dey.

"You say that every time," Alystair said, amused. "What was it? Some old wreck from the Great Wars?"

"No." Skylar waved his tentacle. "No, no, I found this on the internet!"

Everyone who had been listening turned away, and started talking with one another.

"You have no excuse, Skylar, you were born here," Alystair said, sounding despairing.

"What does Skylar do anyway?" Dey whispered to Penny. Being only in town for vacation meant that she hadn't gotten a chance to learn every piece of juicy gossip. Fortunately, Penny was always more than eager to tell her.

"He's a treasure hunter," she whispered. "Finds wrecks and ships and stuff."

"I have found the location...of the TITANIC!" Skylar spread his tentacles wide.

There was a long, poignant pause. Dey could almost see the desire on everyone's face to not be the ones to break the news. She sighed and stood, trying to sound casual as she said: "Uh, Sky, I hate to break it to you, but...the Titanic is in the National Irish Nautical Museum. They raised her fifty years ago."

"N-No, not that one!" Skylar waved his tentacle. "The Titanic...Two."

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